Washington Law Review


John T. Oliver


In 1979 the Washington Legislature amended the drunk driver statute to prescribe a minimum mandatory one-day jail sentence. This sanction is an inappropriate response to the existing crisis of intoxicated drivers on state roads and highways. It is unlikely that the mandatory jail term will be more than marginally effective as a deterrent to drunk driving; this sanction has not previously proven effective as a deterrent for the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI). Moreover, the amended statute is likely to create substantial practical problems. By restricting the flexibility of the criminal justice system and increasing the likelihood that offenders will decide to go to trial, the mandatory jail sanction will aggravate the present problem of overloaded court dockets. The new provision will place an additional burden on overcrowded jail facilities. Further, the amended statute limits judicial discretion in sentencing, thus precluding the imposition of penalties that could be more appropriately tailored to individual offenders. Finally, many experts believe that a substantial proportion of DWI offenders are alcoholics, who need to be treated, not imprisoned. A DWI conviction provides an excellent opportunity to encourage problem drinkers to seek treatment. Yet the present statute arbitrarily requires imprisonment of such offenders rather than early, comprehensive treatment. This note critically examines the mandatory imprisonment statute and proposes a more effective solution to the drunk driver crisis.

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